Poly Planet GAIA | ecosexual love | arts of loving | global holistic health | eros | dissidence: February 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

6 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.
You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.
Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.
From private conversations

Part Six
“What else happened around this book worthy of note?  Anybody else extolled its virtues?” I asked as G and I continued our conversation.
“Well, Deborah Anapol, a founder of the poly movement, read the book and wrote a glowing review.  That made me very happy.  We published it in various places, and are still waiting for Loving More Magazine to live up to the challenge of publishing it also on its pages, perhaps with a disclaimer about the views on AIDS expressed in the book itself.”
“Seems fair.  Anything else?”
“Yes, a few days ago I found a review of the book on Polyamory in the News.  It was scathing.  The usual accusations of ‘denialism’ compounded with a whole bunch of personal attacks.  I was described as a fallen public figure that had become ‘radioactive’ in poly circles after Greensocks and that was now an ‘embarrassment’ to the poly community and movement.”
“Ouch!  How did that feel?”
“Awful,” G said.
“I bet.  Did you respond?”
“Well, by that time I had learned what kind of strength I had to muster to stand behind my statements.  Besides, I now knew that when a reader’s mind was open, the book made its positive effect.  I responded to the accusations and waited for the owner of the website to post my comment.”
“Right on!” I cheered her.
“The comment was not exactly gentle.  Yet he posted it.”
“How did that feel?”
“Felt good.  I realized that now the ball was rolling.  That there was a dialog, a conversation, a debate, an open way to deal with the intellectual/ideological conflict that has been dividing the community.  I know that many polys question the government’s narrow views of AIDS and of public and personal health in general.  However, the current poly leadership--perhaps in an attempt to posture as more ‘respectable’--wishes to keep this under wraps.  Finally, the whole thing was unwrapping--unfolding itself.  More comments came, that defended me from personal attacks and pointed to the subtlety of my theoretical perspective as well.  I was happy. ”
“Good for you, G,” I commented.  “That’s the nice part of being poly, no?  Polys typically accede discussion--once you get the ball rolling, they flock in, they are so gregarious, so symbiotic’,” I commented.
“Yes, that’s why I insisted in playing the game. Others told me to leave them alone, move somewhere else, change niche audience altogether.”
“Didn’t you want to do that?”
“Part of me did.  I felt so ostracized, so unheard.  Why would I be telling my friends these things if not because they’re important?  But at least on the East Coast the government’s view definitely prevailed.   A regional divide is there, and I did feel a pull toward the West Coast, where I always feel more at home.”
“Is ‘denialism’ more popular there?”  I asked G.
“Wait a minute,” G said, “why are you still calling it ‘denialism’?  That’s the problem, remember?  Dissidence,” and her voice got more passionate as she asked that question. 
“Right, what’s in a name?  Can things change just because they’re called by another name?” I asked.
“Think of Lani and Loraine’s book, Bi Any Other Name?”
“Oh yeah, I remember it” I said, “it started the bisexual movement back in the 1990s.”
“Correct.  How did it do that?”
“By calling bisexuals by our own name,” I replied.
“By our own name . . . “ G reflected.  “What’s in a name? Very simple: a name allows a discriminated against, a marginalized, an invisible group to define itself on its own terms.”
“Ok.  So what I hear is that we need to call dissidents dissidents because that’s how they call themselves?”
“Exactly!” G exclaimed.
“I get it,” I continued.  “It’s a bit like calling polys polys and not promiscuous persons.”
“Yes, calling gay men gay men and not ‘faggots.’  Italian-Americans Italian-Americans and not ‘dagos.’  African-Americans African-Americans and not ‘niggahs.’  Using the dignified, self-respecting names marginalized groups chose to describe themselves, instead of the insulting words that injure and silence them.”
“So ‘dissidence’ and ‘denialism’ are not the same, even though they are two different ways to describe the same movement?” I asked G.
“Well, if you are poly and somebody calls you promiscuous, aren’t you going to feel silenced, offended?  What if someone called the polyamory movement the ‘promuscuity movement’?  Would you feel comfortable being part of that?”
“No.  I would respond by saying that we, polys have a right to define ourselves in our own terms.  We cannot accept a definition based on a negative social stereotype.”
“Well, the same applies to the AIDS Dissidence Movement, doesn’t it?  Don’t you think that dissidents have been marginalized enough to want to be called by their own name?”
“Ok, ok.  I get that.  But how would you define Dissidence then?”
“Dissidence is a political--an ideological form of resistance to an institutionally imposed silence on the questions science hasn’t answered yet.  It is a form of science in itself: it produces knowledge that moves in the direction of the paradigm shift we need to create if we want to make peace with our generous hostess, Gaia, the Earth,” G said in a passionate, vehement tone.
“But then some compare what they call ‘AIDS Denialism’ with denial of the Holocaust.  Suppose it turns out there is really nothing else to AIDS than an infection by a virus called HIV--which for some reason cannot be neutralized by a vaccine or an antibiotic.  Suppose it’s just as simple as that.  Then, wouldn’t they have a point?” I asked G, by now a bit impatient, nervous.
End of Part Six, G Tale # 5
Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia &the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Friday, February 26, 2010

3 of 5: We Are Everywhere: A Fiveway Review of A History of Bisexuality, Bisexual Spaces, Look Both Ways, Open, and Becoming Visible

Cont’d, Book Three: Jennifer Baumgardner’s Look Both Ways. (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2007.)
By Jonathan Alexander and Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio

Has appeared in Bisexuality and Queer Theory, a special-topics issue of The Journal of Bisexuality. Re-published with permission of Routledge, New York. 

Both Baumgardner’s and Block’s books come in the feminist tradition of theorizing from the personal, namely of using personal experience to extrapolate theoretical propositions that are not exactly macro-political but nonetheless provide insights applicable well beyond mere identity politics.  While Baumgardner’s book uses the personal as a springboard to offer comments on the media and cultural politics, Block’s book is organized as a personal narrative, which, complemented by the author’s reflections about her own story, has the ambition to offer itself as an encouragement for any reader’s personal and political transformation.  In both their methods and intents, these books are a refreshing statement about what it means to have had several decades of women’s and gender studies as an official part of higher education.  One can see these disciplines in action as one reads how these authors take pride in their gender and acknowledge the importance of female genealogies in their lives, intellectual, political, and biological.  Block and Baumgardner come to bisexuality from different perspectives:  Block defines the space of her bisexual expression within the open marriage she and her spouse gradually create together, an amicable space where their daughter is raised with abundant parenting; more faithful to the feminist communities with whom she works, Baumgardner defines her profile as that of an independent professional whose choice to be a single parent is supported by her communities with abundant affection and help.  For both authors, embracing bisexuality is related to their sense of interconnectedness between women, and between generations of women.  Via different forms of self-affirmation and feminist practice, these interconnections ground Block and Baumgardner’s determination to own their sexuality, to proclaim their sovereignty over their own bodies and selves, and to honor their multiple desires.

If Angelides and Hemmings offer us robust histories and theories of bisexuality, then Jennifer Baumgardner’s delightfully accessible and narratively-driven call to Look Both Ways, in her exploration of, as her subtitle puts it, Bisexual Politics, serves to show us how much academic theorizing about bisexuality has, as it were, hit the streets.  The answer, surprisingly, is quite a bit.  We are not certain that Baumgardner has read either Angelides’ or Hemmings’ books (though she does cite Fritz Klein), but Look Both Ways is nonetheless an often astute and clever look at bisexuality that is aware, as is Hemmings, of both its seeming liberatory potential and its lived nuisances.
Baumgardner focuses primarily on women’s experience of bisexuality, which is not surprising given her previous publications and strong interest in feminism (Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future and Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism).  But she’s also savvy about the influence of popular culture in shaping our understanding of sexuality and in suggesting alternative trajectories for desire and affiliation.  She writes several times about the impact of Ellen Degeneres and Anne Heche’s former relationship on her own thinking about plural sexualities, and she recounts with glee a tension-filled movie theater in which young women expressed discomfort with hunky Matt Damon’s portrayal of the quite queer Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley; scenes of nearly missed kisses between Damon and co-star Jude Law elicited youthful squeals of discomfort.  For Baumgardner, such scenes show us how bisexuality and bi-eroticism permeate pop culture, offering many models for different trajectories of desire while still eliciting, among many others, unfortunate reactions of biphobia.  But that’s reality, as either an Angelides or a Hemmings might point out; as Baumgarnder puts it, “[t]hese subconscious and conscious images of bisexuality in ads, on TV, and in erotica reflect the lives of real women and girls” (9).  And she’s quite good at tracing such images and accounting for their personal impact on her life, all the while rooting them in their historical contexts—from considering bisexuality and second-wave feminism, to writing humorously about what she calls the “Ani [DiFranco] Phenomenon,” to musing about communal tensions among bisexual women and lesbians.

Admittedly, though, this is a “popular” text, and in comparison to A History of Bisexuality and Bisexual Spaces, Baumgardner’s analyses can seem at times too optimistic.  She seems at many points to grind the familiar axes of visibility: “Visibility is crucial to making bisexuality a political force, because it could take straight people from being the majority to being a minority” (222).  We’re not exactly sure what is meant by taking straight people out of the majority, per se, especially since, desirable as it might be, a wave of massive bisexual self-outing seems so unlikely at this time.  Also perplexingly, she writes that “…what is still usually invisible, within all of the rampant visibility that gay rights has achieved, is the insurgent role of bisexual people.  Because we are part of the mainstream, the alternative margin, and the gaystream (the mainstreaming of queer life), we have empathy for an insight into the straight and queer worlds.  Bisexual people are the primary conduits for the cultural conversation that America is having about gay rights” (35).  Yes, we agree in part: bisexuals are often invisible within both straight and gay communities; but we are still left wondering exactly how bisexuals are at the center of cultural conversations between straights and gays about gay rights. Indeed, the subtitle is misleading: there’s not much politics here, unless it’s the politics of the personal, which is an important politics, granted.  We’d hoped, though, for more macro politics, more consideration of how larger conversations, beyond pop culture, are taking shape around bisexuality in particular and around sexuality in general.  In accordance with prevalent styles in the trade book industry, the promise of such analysis is never quite fulfilled.

But there is meaty stuff here, nonetheless.  One nearly throwaway passage in the book’s final chapter gave us much pause for thought:

What Anne [Heche] symbolizes to me is the great what-if—what if it were okay for gay people to have straight expectations?  Not to “pass,” or become palatable, or go back in the closet, but simply to expect what Heche took for granted: to not have to be careful and quiet about her love life.  Heche’s cluelessness and her sense of entitlement were annoying, but they were also her weapons against fear—fear of being gay in a homophobic society and in a very homophobic (though very gay) industry. (217)

The insight here seems smart and dead on: perhaps what is necessary at times—not just to increase bi-visibility, but to help create a world of greater sexual freedom—is a bit of cluelessness, a willingness to claim a sexual empowerment even when such may not be willingly offered by those around you.  This is dangerous territory, but Baumgardner’s willingness to provoke discussion about a “bisexual politics” is dangerous, to gays, straights, and even some bisexuals too.  And while one may not be as theoretically provoked, as is the case with Angelides’ and Hemming’s books, a reader of Look Both Ways may find him-, her-, or ze-self personally provoked—and that might be the most effective kind of provocation of all.

Also appeared in SexGenderBody.  Reprinted here with thanks to Arvan Reese.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

7 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.
You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.
Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.
From private conversations

Part Seven
“If AIDS was just as simple as the Swine Flu, don’t you think that a simple vaccine would have been produced already?  Don’t you remember when we talked about Echinacea?” G asked as we resumed the conversation.
“Yeah, you were flabbergasted that the government would not openly recommend this indigenous remedy,” I commented.
“The vaccine was produced immediately, remember?  So quickly that I felt a time-tested indigenous remedy would be safer if one used it ahead of time, as a preventative.”
“Yes G,” I said.  “It took a few weeks to produce a flu vaccine, and it’s been twenty five years since the beginning of AIDS,” I reflected. “One can’t be too surprised that scientists--as well as a large portion of the general public--dissent from the simple explanations that are the basis for comparing AIDS Dissidence with denial of the Holocaust.  Is that your point?”
“Exactly!” G exclaimed.  “Do you know what dissidents call those who believe in the official explanations?”
“No.  What do they call ‘em?”
“Believers,” G said.
“Believers--as in a church?” I asked.
“Yeah,” G said.  “Believers as in a church, because dissenters realize official science is full of dogmas that serve to keep the power structures in place.”
“But that’s quite offensive,” I commented.
“Just as offensive as being called a ‘denialist’ when you’re a dissenter.”
“Point taken, G,” I replied, “but the problem seems to be that these two groups are not hearing each other--they’re not communicating.”
“How could they possibly communicate better?” I asked.
“One way is offer them scapegoats, sacrificial lambs, naïve foreigners like myself who end up rocking the boat.”
“And that’s been done apparently.  What else?”
“Another way is to make comparisons on a different register.  For example, one can compare ‘believers’ to flat-Earthists back in the Renaissance, or to those who still deny global warming today.”
“How does that help?” I asked.
“It helps to get the point across that dissenters are widely aware of the historical existence of AIDS. That they know its effects have been and continue to be felt by the vast majority of the population, either because they have succumbed to the epidemic, or because their loved ones have, or because their personal and public lives have been affected in significant ways.  There is an entire new generation whose sexual, emotional, and personal lives have been organized around AIDS and the fear of ‘getting it.’  There is a healthy ‘poz’ population whose lives take place under the aegis of being considered both an anomaly and a public peril.”
“What’s your point G?”
“The point is that calling things by their name is science, it is a form of knowledge that helps to unveil the direction we need to take if we want a problem to be solved.”
“I still don’t get it, G.”
“Those in the hard sciences often do not have the humanistic skills to bring their voice to the wider public in incisive, respectful ways.  It is up to those in the humanities to do that.  For example, this young man, Brent Leung, a documentary film director, journeyed all over the world to interview scientists who’ve worked on AIDS, of all schools and perspectives.  House of Numbers, his film is called.  He also interviewed healthy ‘poz’ people, including now-adult ’AIDS babies,’ who’ve refused conventional treatments and are absolutely vital and healthy.  Don’t you think that if we want to find a solution to the AIDS problem, we should encourage science to go there?  To find out how these ‘poz’ people made it?  How they kept vital and healthy?  How they healed themselves?”
House of Numbers, by Brent Leung, Trailer

“Ok.  So what I hear you saying is that AIDS Dissidence is a form of science, that it indicates possible paths authentic scientific inquiries would explore.”

“Yes, and you see that silencing all that effort as ‘denialism,’ really denies its value, its potential to produce knowledge that is very valuable, especially to those, like us, who practice love in alternative ways.  Dissident science produces knowledge that helps in understanding the complexity of immune-related syndromes especially in relation to environmental problems, like contamination of food, water, and air supply.”

“So would you say that polys and other sex-positive people ignore AIDS Dissidence at our own peril?”
“I’d certainly agree with that.  Plus,” G continued, “by now, this movement includes several world renown scientists, some honored with a Nobel Prize, and has produced countless self-funded experiments, conventions, and other knowledge producing venues.”
“Oh.  For example?” I asked.
“The latest ‘Rethinking AIDS Convention’ in Oakland, Ca, November 2009.  Countless books, articles, investigative reports.  The latest important name is Dr. Henry Bauer, of Virginia Tech, who recapitulates the whole Dissidence theory, saga, and data, in its fierce logic and relates it to the concerns for global health and ecology that dominate climate change activism today.”
“As polys,” she continued, “we ignore the AIDS Dissidence Movement at the risk of becoming complicit with the institutional project of reducing our wonderful ability to expand love beyond monogamy to what, in mainstream society, registers as mere ‘promiscuity’.”

“What do you mean?  Explain.”

Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly PlanetEnd of Part Seven, G Tale # 5

Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia & the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Monday, February 22, 2010

4 of 5: We Are Everywhere: A Fiveway Review of A History of Bisexuality, Bisexual Spaces, Look Both Ways, Open, and Becoming Visible

Cont’d, Book Four: Jenny Block’s Open. (Seal Press, 2002.)

By Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio and Jonathan Alexander

Will appear in Bisexuality and Queer Theory, a special-topics issue of The Journal of Bisexuality. Re-published with permission of Routledge, New York. 

Similarly provocative, but in more subdued ways, is Jenny Block’s Open, a narrative about the author’s personal journey through the meanders of social prescriptions, expectations, and clichés, and her endeavor to define herself as a bisexual, polyamorous subject, a woman capable of loving both men and women and of sustaining more than one amorous relationship at once.  Block’s narrative is presented as that of a modern “every(wo)man,” who, in the United States, tries her best to meet social and familial expectations while at the same time continuing her search for what is fulfilling on a deeper level, as well as honest and authentic.  The literary quality of the book is quite impressive, which also speaks well of where bisexual and polyamorous communities are at in the ways of nurturing talent beyond what is merely effective.  The prologue, written in the third person, gives a summary of this every(wo)man’s story in paragraphs that then repeat at the opening of each chapter.  The story that particularizes the person to whom these things happened comes alive as the first-person narrative of each chapter unfolds.  So we learn about Jenny’s liberal parents, about her desire and determination to own and explore her sexuality as a young adult and in college, about her socially acquired goal to find Mr. Right and marry him, about her wisdom in choosing the person, about her first sexual experiences with women and her first affair, while married, with another married woman, Grace, whose husband was possessive and homophobic. 
What is most moving about this book is the way the narrator explains how these events impacted her personal life and the relationship with her husband Christopher, including the different styles of communication and affection that enabled the couple not only to survive, but to grow, and become more deeply related.  For example, we find out that when Grace’s husband threatened to tell Jenny’s husband about the women’s affair, Jenny not only accepted to talk to this man, but also, eventually, when all danger was averted, decided to tell her own husband the whole story as well.  Clearly, Jenny wants to be appreciated by her partner for her honesty, and takes the risk of honesty even when the facts could be easily and conveniently concealed.  In another situation, we learn that via communication and negotiation Jenny and Christopher have agreed to open their marriage, and that the chosen person is a female friend of Jenny’s whom Christopher knows as well, Lisbeth.  The description of the lovely threesome, the trepidations that anticipate it, the act itself, the feelings and afterthoughts are quite discreet and gracious, yet concrete and palpable enough for any reader to get a sense of how joyful and intense these experiences can be. 

As Block remembers:

I couldn’t keep from smiling as I watched my husband run his hand over Lisbeth’s breasts and down her hips. He looked awed, as if this were the first time he had ever touched a woman like that—not just her, but any woman.  It was amazing to watch them together.  It was hot, but it was also sweet.  She was lost in him, and he in her.  I was able to see Christopher as a human being for the fist time in years . . . . as a man, as a sexual being, a person who needed to be wanted (140)

Even though Jenny was the one who suggested opening the marriage, and even though Lisbeth was primarily her friend, when Lisbeth decides to continue the sexual relationship with Christopher and not her, Jenny is obliging in a dignified, self-sustaining way.  She respects them, as she explains:

After the three of us had been together for several months, my husband continued to sleep with Lisbeth, but I didn’t.  It was her choice, not mine.  But I respected her interest (or lack thereof).  . . . I missed having sex with her, but it was important to me that she was honest about how she was feeling (144).

The author comes across as a woman with integrity, love, intelligence, and determination, a person one would want in one’s life, and one who is ready to fight her battles to define herself and her circumstances in her own terms.  Toward the end of the memoir the author goes back to some of the dramatic moments in the story to offer her reflections on how she and Christopher made it though the most difficult times.  She clearly knows how to establish the terms of a negotiation with her partner, as a person who chooses marriage rather than feeling obligated to accept it as a woman’s biological destiny.

Christopher and I recovered from our first debacle almost instantly, simply because we decided we would.  So much of navigating a new lifestyle involves letting go of the ‘norms’ and ‘meanings’ to which people have grown accustomed.  We were figuring things together, and we had to learn to talk to each other and to listen . . . we continue to work at that . . . (228)

A capable negotiator, she is also compassionate and empathetic. As she explains:

even though we know that talking is paramount, it’s not always easy, especially for Christopher.  For example, when things ended with Christopher and Lisbeth as we all went back to being ‘just friends,’ it was though for all of us, as any change is.  But Christopher suffered a different kind of loss than either Lisbeth or I did—and, I believe, a more difficult one.  She and I fell back into our friendship easily, but he had no real relationship with her before our sexual one started and so we was left feeling like and outsider . . . he was back to being the husband of her best friend (228-229).

Eventually, the life narrative Block presents in this memoir ends with the formation of a three-way relationship that has Jenny involved with both Christopher and Jemma, the younger woman who accepts to be her exclusive girlfriend.  This configuration can be described as a bisexual/polyamorous triad. 

Through the empathy for her partner(s) and her affirmation of multipartnering as a practice of love that enhances amorous relationships, the author successfully presents open marriage as a viable alternative between conventional monogamy and more liberal ways to practice alternative lifestyles, as in solo players and group marriage (also known as polyfidelity).  As presented in this memoir, open marriage involves various degrees of bisexuality and responsible non-monogamy, with secondary relationships including something as fleeting as Jenny’s brief flings while out of town, and something as stable as Jenny’s exclusive relationship with Jemma.  Open marriage comes across as a viable option for open minded people in a society like the United States, where the nuclear concept of a family is prevalent enough in the culture at large to determine things as basic as retirement and health insurance.  When understood in these terms, open marriage is a cultural construct that challenges two of the most important paradigms upon which the accepted concept of marriage in the West is predicated: monogamy and monosexuality.  Open marriage, demurely concludes Jenny Block, is “just a variation on an institution that is desperate for a remodel” (221).  Today, when “gay marriage,” as a frequent centerpiece in debates about queer politics, is often understood as a variant that only remodels the gender of the other person, her statement is especially poignant.  And indeed, with her genuine story, Block has persuaded us that “most people involved in open marriages are honest, open-minded, and intellectual” (216). 

Also appeared in SexGenderBody.
Republished here with thanks to Arvan Reese.
Opne by Jenny Block @ Amazon.com 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

8 of 8 - What's in a Word? Dissidence, 'Denial,' and Health on a Poly Planet - From The G Tales

You call me ‘promiscuous,’ I call you ‘dishonest,’ a poly person tells the average person who believes that monogamy is the only natural way to love.
You call me ‘denialist,’ I call you ‘believer,’ a dissident person tells the average person who believes that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
When you call AIDS Dissidents by their own name you exercise leadership in the sexual freedom movement.
Alternative lovestyle communities ignore AIDS Dissidence at their own peril.
From private conversations

Part Eight

“You believe you are a leader in the Polyamory Movement, correct?” asked G as we resumed the conversation.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Yet when you are calling dissidents denialists you are not exercising leadership in the sexual freedom realm.”
“Why not?”
“How would you feel if all of a sudden by some specious misnomer you found you were a leader in the Promiscuity Movement instead?”
“I wouldn’t want to be a leader in that movement, of course.”

“Right.  You got it.  Wouldn't that misrepresentation of who you are to the world produce a barrier in communication?”

“Yes, it would put me in a place where even affirming my right to exist is a problem, let alone delivering my possibly important message.”

“Now you’re getting it,” G replied, “but there is more to that,” she continued. 
“I’m listening,” I said.
“Health and love are related.  How we practice love has an effect on our health, and how we keep our health has an effect on how we love.  This applies at the individual, the community, and the planetary level, would you agree?”
“Yeah?” I hesitated, not sure what G was getting at. 
“Well, the current interpretation of AIDS has kept the world locked in fear for decades.  Think of those sex players in the younger generation who’ve never experienced fluid-bonded sex.”
“Ouch!” I said.
“Ouch!”  G repeated.  “You know how rarely I fluid-bond.  And yet, the most remote ever memory of what it feels like, of the complete communion and interpenetration that happens when one makes love freely and all the fluids are exchanged, is what keeps me wanting to stay alive and healthy--so that, if the type of relatedness that warrants fluid-bonding ever arises again, I can do it at no risk for others or myself.”
“I can’t disagree with you on this one G,” I said, “and I don’t know that anyone who has experienced fluid-bonding in a positive way honestly can.”
“So if we can construct, in rigorous scientific terms, another theory of AIDS that interprets fluid-bonding as a message of love--a message of health, then we can use this scientific interpretation as another way to demonstrate how significant Gaia theory is in relation to the diseases that affect us all.”
“Gaia is quite tired of us especially when we don’t seem to listen to the message of her illness and discomfort as manifest in climate change and global warming,” I commented.
“Precisely,” G said, “if we can better learn the arts of loving that allow us to practice fluid-bonding as a form of holistic health for ourselves and our erotic communities, then we can make Gaia more comfortable with our presence, because we will be busy practicing these arts in their various forms rather than frantically consuming products that do not make us happy and contribute to the excessive production that causes climate instability to begin with.”
“What I hear you saying is another version of your sound-bite, ‘a world where it is safe to love is a world where it is safe to live.’  In other words, if we can enlist science to make the world safer for the arts of loving then it will become a world safer to live in as well.”
“Yeah! You got it!” giggles G. 
G and I finally giggle together.  This has been a heck of a conversation.  I feel exhausted.  But then, isn’t that the essence of being poly?  Endless conversations, debates, open heart disagreements, and that’s how we become cohesive as a movement and we grow. 
“What's in a name?  You said.”
“Right.  What’s in a name? 
“The AIDS Dissidence Movement has a name.”
“G, do you mean that calling movements, entities, people by their name is science, it is a form of knowledge we owe others different from ourselves?”
“Let’s get back to square one then, and begin to see what the argument of your book looks like if the AIDS Dissidence Movement gets to be called by its own name.”
“Thank you, G, it’s always good to talk to you.  You never seem to give up on thinking with your own head.”
“Sometimes I get headaches,” she giggles.
“I’m sure you do,” we giggle together.  “What do you do about it?”
“I use what my friend Alan calls ‘woo woo’ remedies.  I get a massage, some craniosacral therapy.  I meditate, swim, walk.  What about you, my dear, my patient friend, are you ready for the holidays?”
“Yes, G, now I am.” 
“I looked at Gaia’s waters today, she’s still patient, and she sends her blessings.”
End of Part Eight, G Tale # 5
End of Tale

A former AIDS patient speaks out on TV, Atheatos Kosmos

Maria Papagiannidou, author of Goodbye AIDS

Disclaimer:  This Tale does not constitute medical advice in any way.  Readers are invited to consult their own healers and health care providers. 
References: For scholarly and scientific references to contents and theories referred to in this dialog, refer to Gaia & the New Politics of Love, whose bibliography lists all sources involved.  

Thursday, February 18, 2010

5 of 5: We Are Everywhere: A Fiveway Review of A History of Bisexuality, Bisexual Spaces, Look Both Ways, Open, and Becoming Visible

Cont’d, Book Five: Beth Firestein’s Becoming Visible (Columbia University Press, 2007.)

By Jonathan Alexander and Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio

Has appeared in Bisexuality and Queer Theory, a special-topics issue of The Journal of Bisexuality. Re-published with permission of Routledge, New York. 

Last but not least, this review will consider the collection Becoming Visible (2007), which was put together for the purpose of empowering the counseling profession to provide health services to people like Jenny, Christopher, Jemma, and others, such that would help them actualize their ideal amorous configurations rather than make them feel guilty for desiring them.  The collection takes the lead from what manifests as the urge that most clients bring to a counselor’s table, rather than what the counseling profession at large might consider appropriate.  As editor Beth Firestein announces at the onset of her introduction, “our clients are no longer coming to us because they want to be ‘normal.’  They are coming to us because they want to be whole” (xiii, original emphasis). 
As a person who, in principle, does believe in psychotherapy, and who, out of a desire for integrity with her own chosen communities and identities, has practiced individual forms of individual therapy only in the context of co-counseling with members of queer, bi, and poly communities, co-editor Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio could not be more supportive of this kind of endeavor, and hopeful that the very serious studies and research contained in this volume make a significant impact in the profession of psychotherapy, so that more counselors are available to help people like her.  “Whole” stands of course for fulfilled in one’s aspirations in creative, imaginative, unique ways, regardless of any normativity, and, in particular, heteronormativity.  It is a tall call for any therapist, since one’s personal experiences have an effect on the span of one’s imagination, and that tends to trace the contours of one’s belief systems as well.  So, while one cannot imagine how counselors who believe in “converting” gays to heteronormativity (like those the film Bruno makes fun of in a crucial scene) could be impacted by this book, one can certainly see how many liberal therapists open to the idea of wholeness as the goal of a counselor’s work, can find in the book’s pages the data, information, tools, and evidence to become more effective in their job.  Besides this, the book also of course empowers those accustomed to coaching, co-counseling, self-counseling, sharing with confidantes and in support and social groups, pillow talk, and other informal ways of accessing emotional resources, to find pot what it is that they need to get over a stumbling block in their psychological progress and development.

The book’s sections include an overview of critical issues in counseling bisexuals; a central section, “Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan,” that establishes bisexuality as a viable sexual identity acceptable to clients and therapists no matter for how long and at what age it is adopted to describe oneself; a section on the psychological situations faced by bisexuals who are part of cultural, racial, or ethnic minorities; and a section on diversity of lovestyles among groups of bisexuals. 

For the sake of this review, we will focus on three chapters in the volume.  Chapter 11, “Addressing Social Invalidation to Promote Well-Being for Multiracial Bisexuals of African Descent” (207-228), by Raymond Scott, emphasizes the challenges people of African descent face in the United States when they identify as bisexuals.  In the context of critical race theory, the author emphasizes how, when in the culture at large one is exclusively or at least primarily defined by color, any other non-normative self-definitions become fraught with the risk of being considered too deviant to be taken on, with the ensuing consequences of forced duplicity and closetedness, as in what is known as the “down low” lifestyle.  This situation in turn tends to produce self-destructiveness, loss of voice, invalidation, and all the severe emotional and psychological challenges these entail.  It is very important, the article claims, to begin with a self-defined notion of race.  The author models this by describing all people of African descent in the Americas as multiracial, including African-Americans who live in the United States.  Historically, by definition, this is the country where “whites” and only whites have been defined by “purity.”  Once this multiracial, self-defined multiple notion of race is recognized, affirmed, and embraced, the coming-out process of a multiracial bisexual client can begin to take place.

Chapter 17, “Counseling Bisexuals in Polyamorous Relationships” (312-335), by Geri Weitzman, focuses on the segment of the bisexual population that defines itself as polyamorous and whose members practice some form of responsible non-monogamy or multipartnering.  The chapter makes good use of a wide spectrum of data collected in well described informal online surveys.  It offers an articulate typology of the polyamorous population and the kinds of discrimination it faces.  Further, the chapter explains why poly people believe that practicing polyamory contributes to their stability and mental health; it describes their main concerns in a world unfamiliar with their orientation; and reports the incidence among polaymorists of individuals who identify as bisexuals: 51 percent of the total sample according to the survey (317).  Weitzman’s research also contributes to dispelling the myth that polyamorous bisexuals behave like what Fritz Klein calls concurrent bisexuals, namely that they need to be involved with a male and a female at the same time to be whole.  Another dispelled myth is that polyamorous bisexuals are more at risk for sexually transmitted diseases than others.  The report is that 71 percent of respondents affirm that their lovers’ gender does not matter.  It was also found that enhanced awareness of safer-sex practices have successfully protected polyamorous bisexuals from being more affected by STDs than the general population. 

Chapter 18, “Playing with Sacred Fire: Building Erotic Communities” (336-357), by Loraine Hutchins, focuses on counseling participants in “social or friendship networks that include sharing of sexual experiences between network members in various combinations” (336).  The author adeptly introduces the concept of erotic communities.  This trope shifts the focus not only from the sexual to the erotic, but also from the private (from what is supposed to happen behind closed doors, the famous ‘primal scene’ that would be cause for childhood trauma according for Freud) to the public, or at least to an open space where erotic energies can be shared by multiple participants in an amorous game.  With her subtle awareness of and respect for erotic communities based on notions of tantra and sacred eroticism, Hutchins engages a queer terrain indeed, as she proposes that counselors revise the prevalent notion of the orgiastic as the ultimate primitivism and negative loss of self, for a positive notion that revises this experience as one deeply connected with the divine and the sacred.  What happens to the cultural construct of sexuality, with its embedded paradigms of monosexuality and monogamy, when multipartnering in an eroticized space is revised as a religious experience?  Hutchins examines three sacred-sex communities, Carol Queen’s San Francisco based “Queer of Heaven,” the Pennsylvania based “Body Sacred,” and “The Body Electric School,” also based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She points out that leadership in the creation and development of these intentional communities has consistently been bisexual, and that the effect of the work of these communities in the culture at large has been that of teaching anew forms and styles of the arts of loving, some of which were quite well known in cultures ancient or other than the West.  In other words, when all life is recognized as a form of the sacred, as it was in classical antiquity and still is in Tantric Hinduism, then bisexuality, like other plural forms of erotic expression, are every bit according to nature, or, in secondo natura, as Cantarella’s original title explainsThis erotic knowledge, we would like to add, is indeed part of the sacred, as it helps to assuage pernicious fears that stand in the way of practicing love sustainably.  This knowledge helps to control risks involved in producing love in an age of uncertainty like our own, when production of this essential element that all life shares is especially necessary. 

The width of topics and disciplines, the range of interests and perspectives deployed in the reviewed books suggests that the intersection of bisexuality and queer theory is a space populated with multiple minds that vibrate together as their intellectual visions examine and gradually transform our cultural notions of the sexual, the amorous, and the erotic.

Works Cited
Angelides, Steven.  A History of Bisexuality.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Baumgardner, Jennifer.  Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.
Block, Jenny.  Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage.  Seattle: Seal Press, 2009
Cantarella, Eva.  Bisexuality in the Ancient World.  Yale University Press, 1992.  (Originally published in Italian as Secondo natura, 1988.)
Firestein, Beth, ed.  Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan.  Columbia University Press, 2007.
Garber, Marjorie.  Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Hemmings, Clare.  Bisexual Spaces: A Geography of Sexuality and Gender.  New York: Routledge, 2002.
Klein, Fritz; The Bisexual Option. New York: The Harrington Park Press, 1993.

Also appeared in SexGenderBody.
Republished here with thanks to Arvan Reese.